Great images are captured in an instant, but providing history and context is the product of years of research and observation. Professor Ron Amato combines a sense of Provincetown history along with an understanding of newly destabilizing demographic trends there. He used the latest in photographic lighting technology to, well, make more history.
Amato’s work reached near completion during his recent sabbatical, two years after his initial efforts to capture Provincetown artists in their work spaces. He has been photographing in crowded, often creatively chaotic artists’ studios since 2015 and now has assembled enough for an upcoming exhibit at Provincetown Art Association and Museum.
“With this body of work Ron Amato demonstrates his abilities as a photographer to truly capture a place and its people.” -Troy Richards, Dean, School of Art and Design
“I began the project because I was intrigued by Provincetown’s robust artists’ community,” says Amato. “There is a bustling but insular art economy that drives part of the town. It seemed closed to outsiders. I had a deep desire to break that surface and find what it was all about.”
The photos highlight the salient issue in Provincetown’s current debacle — the artist population is aging. New young talent is mostly frozen out of permanent residence by high real estate costs. They are the victims of Provincetown’s cachet.
“I had numerous conversations with the artists about the difficulties faced by younger artists living and working here the way they have done,” says Amato. “Three artists I photographed are part of a group that secured an old community center to create Provincetown Commons, a space for supporting young talent. This is artists rising up to help other artists. It’s greatly inspiring.”
Amato was originally drawn to Provincetown by the fellowship of the artist community. But the history began to intrigue him: the Pilgrim landing in 1620, the rich traditions of the Portuguese fishing community, the response to the AIDS crisis, and now the changing demographics. “It’s what makes for a delicate balance that keeps drawing people back,” says Amato.
Longtime residents are quick to point out (400 years later) that the Pilgrims landed in Provincetown before they sailed across the bay to a beach they called Plymouth Plantation. Since at least 1899, when Charles Hawthorne opened the Cape Cod School of Art, artists have been prominent in Provincetown. But the artist colony was in decline by midcentury. It wasn’t until long after World War II that a new and diverse generation of artists saved Provincetown from kitsch and economic decline.
“The unique artist community that has developed around Provincetown is beautifully and humanely brought to life and the work represents a remarkable achievement for Prof. Amato,” says Dean Richards
The technology Amato used for this project helped. “In recent years there have been advances in battery-operated studio strobes that allowed portability and nimbleness while shooting. This was key to capturing the images I have,” he says.
Amato often worked in tight, cluttered spaces or outdoors. The lightweight, portable but powerful units, allowed him to work without a wall plug or an assistant.
The units are controlled by an attachment to Amato’s camera. “I never had to put down my camera to change the lighting ratios. I could do it all from the controller. I could create multiple outcomes from the same setup and choose the one I liked the best in post production.” says Amato.
Amato’s first visit to Provincetown was in the summer of 1999. “The town cast a spell on me,” he says. “It was the first time I felt free, of judgment, commitment, of my own limitations.” He brought with him rolls of expired film as an afterthought. “I ended up shooting every roll I brought with me. In a way this project started that summer 18 years ago.”
All photos used with permission